Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Recommended Daily Allowance of Birds

A goose a day provides 5% of one's Recommended Daily Allowance of Birds.
Every now and then a friend of mine comes up with an idea so splendid, yet so obvious, that I’m bummed out that I didn’t think of it first. My friend Rob Fergus, Senior Scientist for Urban Bird Conservation for the National Audubon Society, wrote this in his blog, called the Birdchaser:
Most people don't eat enough vegetables, or fiber. They also don't see enough birds. This year I've decided that I need my minimum Recommended Daily Allowance of Birds. For me, and for most folks in the Lower 48, a good Bird RDA is probably 20 species. It takes a little work to see 20 species each day, but it can usually be done.

When I thought back to probably the healthiest time of my life, when I was teaching junior high school before having my own children, it hit me—Rob is exactly right! I walked or rode my bike to school on fine days, and when I took the bus, I’d usually hop out to spend 20 minutes checking out one good birding spot and then get the next bus with a transfer. On weekends I spend most days birding. I would bet that I saw 20 species a day at least 95% of the time—maybe more. And sure enough, I was in excellent shape—as a matter of fact, the morning that I heard my first Golden-winged Warbler, I missed the bus while scouring the bushes trying to see it, and ended up running 3 miles. Students who saw me from their school bus took bets about whether I’d make it to school on time—those that bet against me lost, and all of them were surprised that I wasn’t even winded. Apparently that fitness came from reaching my Recommended Daily Allowance of birds.

Rob came up with his brilliant idea on January 5, and ever since then he’s met his Bird Recommended Daily Allowance every day. In the northern states, it’s way trickier and more uncomfortable to meet the Bird RDA every single day in January and February than it is in March, but even at this late date it’s worth getting started. This morning I took Photon on our normal half-mile trek down Ellis Hollow Road to the marsh and back, and checked out the birds at my feeder and around the Sapsucker Woods parking lot—I had 19 species, and since I want to start the day right, headed to the Cornell Lab’s employee lunchroom and added 5 more looking at the pond. I didn’t feel a whole lot healthier. Meeting our Bird RDA is probably like taking vitamins—it may take a few days or weeks to notice the health benefits. But unlike vitamins, just seeing those birds made me feel a lot happier, so as far as general well-being, meeting one’s Recommended Daily Allowance of birds gives us instant results.

I’m going to set myself a goal of seeing at least 20 different bird species each day for the rest of the year. If I’m healthier at the end of December, I’ll have Rob Fergus to thank. And, of course, all those birds.